New Networked Feminism Just Like the Old Networked Feminism: Organize or Die.


So, I took February off from blogging to get my book going. That’s my excuse for my silence of the last few weeks (in case anybody missed me!). But what I learned during this month is just what my book is about: “Every day (really, really) is election day.”

And what a glorious month of election days it’s been.

During this past month, millions of my sisters womaned the barricades, wrote articles, carried protest signs, tweeted, posted to Facebook, and otherwise expressed their outrage over the latest attempt to beat back women: the campaign to deny women birth control. Yikes. Just writing those words, “deny birth control,” makes me crazy, which is probably why I couldn’t even begin to write anything cogent. (I, whose very first student internship was at Planned Parenthood.)

But, when I read Tuesday’s Forbes piece about “the new networked feminism, it “touched my last nerve.” Touched it so forcefully I about jumped out of my chair. Consequently, dear readers, here I am, right back at you, squarely between the eyes, I hope.

Yes, Tom Watson’s, the Forbes’ writer’s basic point is a good one: Social media has enabled those of us wont to be politically active to be even more so, seemingly more frequently because social media is faster, cheaper, gets around the block without leaving the comfort of the couch, and, yes, because it’s less hierarchical. And, yes, when each one of us owns her own printing press, and the “printing costs” are negligible, that sure does create an important opportunity to spread one’s views and encourage action supporting them. (Marx was right: Owning the means of production is mighty sweet.)

But when I read this quote in the Forbes piece, by one Allison Fine: “(Today) women aren’t waiting to be told what to do or which petition to sign, they’re just doing what we do best: talking and connecting,” I went crazy all over again. I don’t have a clue who Allison Fine is when it comes to political organizing, or politics, or public policy. What her bio says is that she is an expert on social media. Fine. But this fine isn’t nearly fine enough, at least when it comes to the topic of women’s political organizing. In fact, this fine is very un-fine: “Talking and connecting (without being told what petition to sign)” is what’s been happening this last month? Not hardly. Wrong on the facts. Wrong on the message. Wrong on the goal. Wrong, if what you want to do is support your sisters.

In fact, if one looks at the volume of activity, and what actually transpired during this last month, say, signing this petition to get Rush Limbaugh off of Armed Forces radio, as well as at the success in getting major corporate sponsors to drop Rush Limbaugh, not to mention the success in changing the conversation about women’s rights, I’d say that what millions of American women–from all regions, of all ages, and of every political persuasion– have been doing this last month is way not chitting and chatting, (which is what the Fine image conjures-up to me, in the process demeaning those of us who did pass petitions instrumental to advancing women’s rights), but really smart and tough-minded political organizing.

But give Ms. Fine credit where credit is due. The primary medium for this recent organizing was social media. But the message sure wasn’t, oh gee, let’s talk and connect about the evil Mr. Limbaugh. It was, instead: Let’s talk and connect (“network”) to get rid of the guy. He is evil-incarnate, seriously bad news, and no one, but no one, should be supporting him.

Jodi Jacobson organized a tough-minded get-rid-of-the-guy campaign, and the petitions to sign to go along with it, to pressure Rush Limbaugh’s sponsors to drop him because he was spewing hate-speech, because she didn’t believe those corporations should condone such speech. She wasn’t sitting around talking and connecting, or asking the rest of us to do the same. Not hardly. She started organizing what others then worked to turn into the winningest political campaign they could, to combat and defeat this modern-day Goebbels.

And this is exactly why the new networked feminism is just like the old networked feminism. Back-in the-day, we were fighting to cripple anti-women hate-mongerers, too. We, too, called-them-out, pressed their sponsors to disaffiliate, spread our message to like-minded sisters (and brothers). It’s just that we did it with telephones and copiers and fax machines, not social media. But the impetus to action–by both generations of women activists–is exactly the same: Beat back and organize against injustice, inequality, and sexism, not to mention against just plain haters. And that’s what’s really important as we look back at February 2012, and look forward during this, 2012’s women’s history month.

My point here isn’t to quibble about the use of language. It is to speak plainly about the importance of properly characterizing a civil rights movement that continues, vigorously. We didn’t chit and chat then; we don’t chit and chat now. And, by the way, we want a mainstream media that accurately characterizes our activity for just what it is: a freedom movement of decades-long duration.

Finally, it occurs to me that the new networked feminism is just like the old networked feminism because the measure of success, like the impetus, also remains the same. In this new day, when a new generation of American women is politically aroused, it won’t be the number of social media outings, of tweets, of Facebook postings, of blogposts that will be the measure of success. Nope. Instead, the measure of success will be the willingness and fortitude to constantly confront, and seek to destroy, abusive power. Just like it always was.

Indeed, if this teachable moment, centered-around Rush Limbaugh (!), teaches us anything, it teaches us about the continuing need for deep institutional change in this country, if we are to live in a place where each of us is judged by the content of her (or his) character.

Back in the day, we talked and connected and networked to get organized. Today, led by my younger sisters, we are doing just the same. This is the best history report I could imagine reading during women’s history month. Let’s keep writing this report.

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  • allison-fine

    Hi, Rebecca, thank you for the thoughtful article. I noticed that you objected to my quote in the article, and I’d like to clarify what I think is your misunderstanding of its intention. Social media is a vehicle for women connecting, sharing, and having dialogue. Social change – whatever that change is – comes as a result of these many conversations, it always has and it always will. What social media does is make the former brokers for these conversations, institutions – formerly churches and social groups, more recently advocacy gorups, largely obsolete. We don’t need Planned Parenthood or Greenpeace or NOW or any other group to tell us what to do, we have the communications vehicles, our own megaphones, to self organize immediately and effectively.

    The results of our conversations online are pressuring sponsors to abandon Rush, or wiht the #takebackthepink effort I helped to organize a few weeks ago, force Komen to publicly take responsiblity for their political agenda. But whatever the results and actions are, they are coming from women speaking directly to other women, not from institutions giving us marching orders.

    I hope that clarifies, welcome back to the blogosphere!

    Allison